Redesigning the “engage!” board game – my public humanities internship

engage! game board redesigned

by Isabelle Tanja Reiß

Last winter I had the pleasure of working at IEG Mainz for ten weeks. This internship was part of my master programme in Digital Humanities at JGU Mainz. My task was to rework the board game “engage!” created by Monika Barget, Jack Kavanagh, Susan Schreibman, Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Sharon M. Leon in 2018. The redesign and reworking of the game was supposed to happen on the basis of  user feedback collected beforehand. “Engage!” is an educational game that introduces cultural heritage experts and humanities scholars to public engagement / engaged research, though one of the main points of critique was, that the game wasn’t engaging enough. Many praised the great discussions that arose throughout the gameplay, but criticised the missing drive to win the game in the same breath.

The extensive and harsh punishments in the game (e.g. sending players all the way back to START) were identified as the main reason for the slowness of the game as they could keep you from making any progress for many many rounds if you were unlucky. So Monika Barget and I cooked up an idea to lessen the punishments without limiting the well-received opportunities for interaction: the Persona Cards!

engage! game board field
engage! game board fields

This whole new card category for the game is supposed to work like a joker card. Some of those cards have a direct effect such as moving forward spaces or getting to roll the dice again. Others work more like a protective shield against future punishments and can be kept on the hand until they are needed. The biggest challenge, however, was to make this card category visually engaging and to relate them to the overall theme of the game. To fill our rather abstract joker cards with life, we decided to use professions affiliated with public humanities and engaged research projects for the Persona Card roles. This in itself added a nice storytelling touch to the game. But since I’m an aspiring illustrator, I was also eager to add fitting visual components to the roles we picked.

engage! persona cards
engage! persona cards

In terms of aesthetics, I tried finding a middle way between the styles of infographics and children’s books. As a result, the designs should be fun and pleasing to look at but also simple enough to be easily recognizable when printed on the small game cards. Last but not least, the real-life professions should be identifiable at first sight. Another very important issue was to design the game as inclusive and diverse as possible. To achieve this, I tried to keep gender specific and ethnic features at a minimum, or otherwise sprinkle in feminine, masculine or cultural components in equal parts.

Apart from the new card category we changed the overall design of the game and added selected online resources to the game website. This includes a glossary of word definitions, a reading list as well as links to videos and websites presenting on-going public humanities projects. All in all, I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Plus, we managed to achieve all the goals that were set before the project began thanks to good communication and great teamwork. Once again I realized the creative potential of interdisciplinary collaborations.

Game board, cards and instructions are available on GitHub.

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Isabelle Reiß is studying at the Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz, pursuing her master’s degree in the discipline of Digital Humanities (Digitale Methodik der Geistes- und Kulturwissenschaften). In addition to that, she’s a self taught illustrator specialised in character design and storytelling.


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